Samuel Allen Counter, Jr., a 1961 graduate of the all-black Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach who went on to become a powerful force for racial equality, a neurology professor at Harvard and a well-known neurophysiologist, died on July 12.
Even in high school, Counter was making strides toward racial equality. His first protest was with eight other boys who participated in a “wade-in” at an all white beach in Boynton, according to a Palm Beach Post article published in 1995.
“We waded in and 250 whites stormed off the beach,” Counter told the Post.
He also protested a Burger King on South Dixie near Southern Boulevard that was refusing to serve blacks by walking in with a friend and asking for a Whopper, according to high school friend Robbie Littles.
“We understood that with our intellectual ability we had a responsibility to reach back,” Littles said Monday. “That was pressed into us every day and every class.”
Counter achieved his undergraduate degree at Tennessee State University and then went on to earn his doctorate from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, according to his page on Harvard’s website.
A professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, Counter was the founding director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, which promotes intercultural understanding and racial harmony on campus, according to the Harvard Gazette.
“We were taught that we had to do better than our white counterparts to be successful,” Littles said. “We had to do better than our parents because that’s what they fought and died for.”
He also received accolades in exploration.
Counter also did ethnographic research in the Suriname Rainforest in South America and the Ecuadorian Andes where he found an isolated population of descendents of African slaves, according to his page. These explorations led to major articles on the subject in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Time and Newsweek.
In 1986, Counter traveled to the northernmost settlements in Greenland to find the American Eskimo sons of North Pole discoverers Robert E. Peary and Matthew A. Henson and helped bring them to the U.S. to meet their relatives and see their fathers’ resting places.
Counter earned his Doctor of Medical Science at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Sweden and was later appointed Consul General of Sweden in Boston and New England by the King of Sweden and the Swedish ambassador to the U.S., according to the Harvard Gazette.
He also designed Arthur Ashe’s memorial at Woodland Cemetery in Richmond, Va.
Counter and Littles were both speech students and acted in the senior class play together along with being football players, Littles said.
“He was an extremely positive and exceptional humanistic individual,” Littles said.